Relief From The Heat; Colorado Style
by Ken Womack (Pics By Ken and Steve Weinberg)

This is the second part of a 3 part story of our trip to Silverton Co. in August with Steve Weinberg. After running Minnie Gulch, Picayune Gulch, Placer Gulch, Engineer Pass, and Mineral Point the first day, we had a choice of many trails to do. We chose Pough-keepsie Gulch since Black Bear was closed from all the hard rains causing mudslides. 

Evelyn wanted a break that day to take care of a few things and do some shopping for the Grandkids. Since Poughkeepsie was the hardest trail in the area, we thought this would be a good day for it since the rain had stopped and it was a pretty Colorado Blue sky day.

The night before, Steve’s Jeep was running rough, so we changed the spark plugs, which took care of the problem. Steve carries a wide variety of spare parts with him. We decided that the best way to run the trail was starting from the beginning of the Alpine Loop near Ouray. Poughkeepsie Gulch branches off this trail and is about 2 1/2 miles from the start of the Alpine Loop. Poughkeepsie used to be considered impassable by the locals until Jeepers came with lockers and did it. Although it can be done with a modified vehicle with some lift, 32” minimum and at least one locker, I would suggest at least one rig have double lockers and a winch. You should not do this trail alone or if it is raining or has rained hard the day before. 

We aired down close to the highway, and began our climb up the road. The scenery was awesome, the air cool and fresh… Ahhhh!  About 1½ mile up the road, we came up on The Mickey Breene Mine. There was once a large boardinghouse and a power plant there along with some other mine buildings. All that remains is the rail dump and scattered timbers. It has a beautiful waterfall on the cliff next to the road. It’s a good place to walk around and explore. On up the road was the turnoff for Poughkeepsie, which we took. Coming down the trail, we met up with fellow SHR member Jerry Paul Higgins and Mike Meeker and some other folks from Texas who where enjoying the trails. They had run the trail from the opposite direction. 

Poughkeepsie is a beautiful area that starts out in the trees and then moves into the tundra. The trail gets a little confusing as you need to make a right when the main trail appears to go straight. Shortly after that you come to the area where most folks turn around. It’s a wall of sorts with no easy choice of passage. There used to be a way to the left, but a large boulder was placed there to block this route. Wise choice as it is not the safest or best way to go. The middle way appears easiest, until you notice the jutting rock just waiting to snare your top or dent your quarter panel. This way has a deep cut in the rock that forces your rig towards the jutting rock. I chose the way to the right, a slightly off-camber rock wall climb. Steve spotted for me as I tried the first time and spun out, backing down. The next attempt was slightly to the left and it worked with just a little wheel spin. Steve chose the middle way and was nearly up on the jutting rock at any angle. I spotted him with his front wheel on rock chunk that tilted him slightly away from the rock. He ambled up with a scratch on his rear flare, which could have been worse.

There were no other Jeeps on this trail because it was a weekday and rental Jeeps aren’t allowed on this trail. On the weekend, there would be more rigs doing this trail, mostly modified. After this spot, the trail gets much easier on the way up to Lake Como, except for a few optional spots that you can take for another challenge. Lake Como is a pretty place indeed, blue-green water in a volcanic crater. The lake is supposed to be very deep and the water intensely cold. There used to be mines, a mill, and power lines here until the 30’s and 40’s. All are gone now except for the natural beauty of the area. We ate lunch there and met a couple of guys from Wichita Falls, TX, in a rental Jeep that that had come from California Pass direction. We ate lunch and visited with them while trying to hold on to our lunch from blowing away with the wind, which was strong that day.

We left there to climb California Pass at 12,900 ft. above sea level. It had a fine view of Lake Como, Poughkeepsie Gulch on one side and California Gulch on the other. Truly a magnificent sight!  After a short walk for the best view and some pictures, we loaded up for the ride down into the gulch below. 

The little brown ribbon of road we saw from high above took us through the tundra and past some historic mine sites. There were several tram supports that had the cable wheels still on them that the ore buckets used to run on that go from the mine to the mill. We went on past the Placer Gulch turnoff that we had run from the other way the day before. 

We kept on going until we reached Animas Forks. Steve had never been there before, and it had been a while since I had seen it, so we spent some time exploring the well preserved ghost town. There has been some stabilization going on, with some cabins having new roofs on them. The local Historical Society and the BLM had evidently been there and worked on them. A refreshing trend going on here, hope it continues. 

We enjoyed the visit there and loaded up for the last leg of the journey for the day. The road is 2-wheel drive past Animas Forks and it wide in most spots. Steve wanted to take the county road that runs right along the Animas River, so we did. This is a scenic drive probably not used all that much, as it is narrow in places, but well worth the time. Steve took many pictures along this route and it was relaxing and fun. We got back to camp about 4:30 p.m. Later we all went to HandleBars Restaurant for some tasty grub, and later to a local watering hole to shoot pool and enjoy the evening. It was great day of ‘wheeling and camaraderie for sure!

 

Cinnamon Pass, Sherman and Carson 

Wednesday was Steve’s last day of ‘wheelin’ before having to pack up and leave for Texas, and he just had a half day to run. I woke up very early that morning knowing we had a full day ahead of us. A little later we were all up and ready for some breakfast. I had already got in the Jeep to scope out what restaurant(s) may be open; The Chattanooga Café was, so that’s where we went. After enjoying breakfast we went back to camp to load up for the day’s run. It would be an overnighter for Evelyn, Blaze and I, so we packed accordingly. 

We left about 7:30 a.m. to run Cinnamon Pass, American Basin and whatever else we could run before noon, the time Steve had to go back. We ran Cinnamon Pass and on down to American Basin, a short side trip that’s famous for its wildflowers. It’s a dead end into a gulch like many of the trails are in the area, but it’s worth the trip. Only yellow wildflowers were left, as the real season is over in early Aug. or late July. 

After exploring the area, we left for the main road (which is 2-wheel from just before American Basin) and ran until we saw an interesting trail with some mining remnants. We ran down to a gate, and parked, and got out to explore on foot. Here we saw a fine little stream, some old boilers and a mine shaft. This probably had a power plant to make electricity and steam power to run mining equipment. An old compressor and the boilers were all that remained. The mine shaft had track still in it, but the shaft was supported by old timbers that were rotting. This type of shaft is better off NOT explored, obviously due to the possibility of a collapse. We observed from a safe distance and enjoyed the warm sun and the little waterfall in the stream. This was a really nice place to stop. 

Shortly past this spot, I was noticing a very low rear tire. After checking it closely, I determined that it was just pebbles in the bead causing the leak. I let out most of the air and then aired

back up, but it helped only a little. I borrowed some Stop-Leak from Steve and it worked perfectly. On down the road Steve decided it was time to turn around for the trip back to Silverton and to pack up for Houston. It would give him time to return, pack up and leave before 3:00 p.m. We said our goodbyes and wished each other a safe trip.

Evelyn, Blaze and I continued on for our next destination, the ghost town of Sherman. Not much is left but some foundations of some old cabins. The Black Wonder was the main mine in the area and there were once a large mill, several saloons, a post office and a summer population of close to 300 in its heyday. The area suffered several major floods during spring runoff that wiped out much of the town. They simply rebuilt and continued on until the early 1900’s, when mining there fell off. There are several new homes in the area, with a very nice Italian Restaurant and Cabins to rent. This is a very upscale place which we had hoped to eat lunch, but they had lost power, and they’re menu was very limited and too pricey for lunch. Someday we will return and enjoy a nice dinner there. 

The main road turns into a 4X4 road after about 2 miles and is rough in places, but not hard by any stretch of the imagination. We heard this was a good side trip, and it was indeed. The road goes right along Cottonwood Creek thru cottonwood and aspen trees, then into pine then back. It’s a very pretty place to unwind and take in the scenery. After about 2 miles, the road was blocked by a mudslide. We probably could have dug out a area to pass through, but it would have still been shaky and we had lot’s more to do this day. We chose to turn around and go back. There was supposed to be some cabins and a mine there, but it will be saved for another trip someday.

We got back on the main road with our next side trip being Wager Gulch and the ghost town of Carson. At the turnoff, a small subdivision is forming, so we went through slowly. Past that the road is rough, but not hard. 4WD is needed, but there are no major challenges. It’s about 4 miles to some cabins that most people call Carson, but is actually known as Bachelor Cabins. They are in good condition, with new tin roofs on them. We ate our pack lunch here and explored the area - another pretty spot to enjoy in a place that has many. After our late lunch we went on up to the Continental Divide. All watersheds are divided into what goes west to the Pacific Ocean, and east to the rivers that feed the Gulf and the Atlantic. We turned left to go to the remains of the real Carson City, with a few cold cabins remaining and some mine tailing. Further up is Heart Lake Road, all to the east there are trails that go to Stony Pass and Creede. Maybe on the next trip, we can explore these. To the right was the highest point in the immediate area. We chose this to stretch out and explore. It had a view that was very inspiring to say the least.

We gathered up and left to go back down, wanting to get to Lake City and check into our cabin rental for the night. It had been a very long day. We had run close to 60 miles that day. We aired up at the beginning of pavement, which is just past Lake San Cristobal, a natural lake formed by the Slumgullion Mud Slide, an enormous avalanche that happened 600 to 700 years ago that dammed up the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. This lake is very large and is a great place to fish and camp. 

Lake City is a quiet little old mining town that now is a tourist town, but not overdone or over commercialized. I dropped off Evelyn to check into our cabin, while I washed the Jeep and fueled up for the next day. We went to eat at the restaurant across the street, then relaxed and enjoyed the evening. It was a fine day of Back Country Exploration with heavy doses of beauty and history.  

Next and last chapter: Nellie Creek Trail, Engineer Pass and Black Bear Road and Imogene Pass. 

- Ken Womack